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    Thanks to Neko Atsume, I’m A Virtual Cat Lady

    The Cat Collecting Craze…

    neko-atsume-logoI admit it. Lately, I haven’t been playing that many games. Oh, I still dabble in Clash of Clans or Super Mario Maker once in a while, but life – and work – keeps getting in the way, and I was never any good at gaming anyway. I do play enough that some Facebook quiz, trying to guess my gender, age, and income level via the apps on my phone, seems to think I’m a 32-year-old married man with a $52,000 per year salary. In reality, I’m a middle-aged single mom trying to eke out a living as a freelance writer, working from my laptop at home, baking Alton Brown recipes for fun.

    In other words, I’m a perfect candidate for Future Crazy Cat Lady. Enter Neko Atsume.

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    My milkshake brings all the cats to the yard. Or something like that…

    Preparing me for my upcoming feline-friendly career, Neko Atsume is a cat-collecting game. You must have seen it. It’s a non-game kind of game, which is pretty much perfect for the amount of brain cells I have alive in my head by the time I’m ready to do anything fun.

    My son, through the kids at his school, introduced me to this free mobile game. But it doesn’t matter. I would have found it some other way. For one thing, my college alumnae pet group (I went to a women’s college) is obsessed with Neko Atsume, and I’m always getting on to Facebook to find my feed littered with advice on how to get certain cats, or just people posting screen captures of the cats in their yard. I played this game for two months, off and on, before I actually got interested in it.

    I don’t get it. There is no reason this game should occupy me the way it does. I mean, you buy stuff. You put it out in your yard. Cats show up. They go away, leaving gifts behind that you can use to buy more stuff. That’s literally it. Nothing else happens.

    Yet there’s something very Zen about Neko Atsume. The stakes are low. If you leave, there are no consequences. No one attacks you while you’re gone. There’s no action whatsoever. There are cute kitties, sometimes with bags on their heads (isn’t that adorable?). Because they are drawn to different objects, it’s almost like they have personalities. You make them happy by providing items they like. It’s like virtual love, with the minimum amount of energy expended.

    I’m not the only one who feels this way. Heck, I’m late to the party. Plenty of people have spent time pondering this simple game’s popularity, and many others have jumped on the bandwagon. Academics and comedians have weighed in. Blog posts have been written. Buzzfeed has done a list (because of course they have). There’s a Tumblr (duh). There’s a sub-Reddit. The cats have been ranked. Recipes have been created. Heck, I learned to capture screenshots on my Android phone just so I could share pictures of my collected cats. I don’t even share pictures of my REAL cats (much).

    For those of us aspiring future multiple-cat-owners-about-to-be-raided by-the-humane-society, Neko Atsume is perfect. These cats don’t pee where they’re not supposed to, or need to go to the vet to have their teeth cleaned, or shed fur all over all my black yoga pants (I’m looking at you, Beasley), or steal tuna off the counter (I’m looking at you, Elsie).

    I think I like being a virtual cat lady. It’s at least a touch less pathetic than being a real one. Right? Right?

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    GUEST REVIEW: Owlegories

    The fauna steps in where the flora fell down

    Owlegories_1

    I had been down this road before. I became a Christian in college and immediately was made aware of the presence of Christian-themed anthropomorphic produce shows.

    They were fine. I mean, they were cute, they told a story, had a Bible verse or two, and were generally exactly the kind of wholesome cartoons the classic Christian household would prefer to the likes of Spongebob Squarepants or Monster High.

    Then there was a feature-length movie. As the brand’s popularity skyrocketed, VeggieTales quickly spiraled down the drain, replacing Christian stories and lessons with a focus on therapeutic moralistic deism. Instead of adhering closely to the Scriptures as their source material (to the point of actually putting verses on screen), VeggieTales became an avenue for teaching moral lessons (be kind, love one another) through allegorical tellings of Biblical stories with animated fruits and vegetables. Phil Vischer, one of the creators of VeggieTales, shared his regrets about what happened in an interview with the Christian Examiner back in October of 2015.

    It became became a shell of what it was. It’s not that these lessons were bad, but they were no longer the Christian programming they purported to be. As such, there wasn’t great, widely available, Gospel-centered animated children’s programming anymore.

    Enter Owlegories. There is no doubt anyone with even casual familiarity with VeggieTales will immediately be reminded of it when the show begins, but the similarities to the VeggieTales we have today ends very quickly.

    Owlegories is a brand wrapped around a number of apps and direct-to-DVD/digital cartoon episodes. The brand makes use of a core cast of owls to tell of the glory of God through nature. Using metaphorical language, student owls learn from teacher owls about aspects of who and what God is that are like certain elements in nature. How is God like the sun? Like water? Like fire?

    Owlegories

    Owlegories is an inventive way to teach children about God by providing real world examples that can be replicated by parents. Instead of a story with ethereal touchpoints that is theoretically tied to a Biblical event (and taking wide liberties, at that) Owlegories provides concrete examples and concepts that are easy to grasp. Each episode features three ways in which God is like the aspect of nature they’re studying (the Baptist in me is proud).

    The episodes reminded me a lot of VeggieTales with a little bit of The Wild Kratts thrown in. There is an adorably goofy conflict with a classic over-the-top villian owl named Devlin in each episode that the student team needs to resolve, learning about God through nature along the way.

    My wife and I chuckled a few times while watching the three episodes with our children. Even though the construction of the episodes was superior to today’s VeggieTales, that wasn’t what impressed us the most: after the show was over, a guest would give a Gospel message.

    The episodes, which provide the bulk of the content, can be seen via DVD or by downloading the Owlegories TV app. There is also an “Owlegories: The Original” app that allows you to view a lot of the same information in a more interactive way. and an Owlegories memory verse app currently in development. The apps are currently available for iOS and Android.

    Owlegories App

    Owlegories is a labor of love initially developed by the Boto family. That team has grown to include a number of others including the accomplished Keith Alcorn, who has worked on movies like Jimmy Neutron and The Ant Bully. The leadership team is working with Spy House Productions and Gundersen Entertainment to bring Owlegories to market.

    Owlegories is well on its way to becoming a Gospel-themed multimedia force, if it can keep up the quality of what they have put out so far. I do hope they continue to do so, and especially that they don’t deviate from their banner verse(s): Psalm 19:1-4.

    Though I could pick nits with its theology from a personal preference perspective, I think Owelgories does an excellent job conveying the core message without diverting into a feel-good mess. I also think any parent who is looking for this kind of entertainment for their children is probably prepared to buttress it with direct teaching. Within this vein I’m very happy to see the continued efforts of the staff at Spy House/Gundersen Entertainment to engage their community on the Owlegories Blog.

    There are two Owlegories DVD’s currently available that can be purchased on Amazon or at Wal-Mart or a number of other brick & mortar stores. It is an excellently produced show with a clear Biblical message. If you’re a Christian parent looking for some entertainment for your kids that is a little more Biblical and a little less moralism, it might be something for you to check out. With additional content right at your fingertips via the apps, it is easy for a family to check it out to see if it is right for them.

    MoreOwls

    Owlegories DVD Giveaway

    The Avengers Get Schooled in MARVEL Avengers Academy

    8a26fdc9-653c-4f8c-a289-00039092c26dWhether it’s on TV, in movie theaters, or in the pages of the comic books that spawned them, you can’t turn around these days without seeing superheroes. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I mean, I’ve made no secret about my crush on Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man. But as much fun as these characters are, it’s kind of hard for some of the younger crowd to really relate to them. After all, it’s not like they’re dealing with things like school, socializing, or fashion faux pas when they’re not out saving the world. That’s where TinyCo’s new mobile game, MARVEL Avengers Academy, comes in.

    MARVEL Avengers Academy takes the cast of characters from Marvel and reimagines them as college age students at the newly minted (and still under construction) Avengers Academy.  Players will recruit Marvel heroes and villains as students enrolling in the school, teach them how to use their powers, and even build up the school with new classrooms, dorms, and superhero necessities like aircraft hangars and shooting ranges. Imagine “The Avengers Meets Saved by the Bell” and you’ll start to get a good idea about the game.

    Building on that whole hipper, younger superhero theme, TinyCo pulled together a surprisingly talented cast to voice this fresh faced version of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The game features Dave Franco (Now You See Me, Neighbors) as the smooth and charming Tony Stark, Alexandra Daddario (both Percy Jackson movies, American Horror Story: Hotel) as the hyperactive fashionista, Janet Van Dyne (a.k.a. the Wasp), and Colton Haynes (Arrow, Teen Wolf) as the God of Thunder, Thor.

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    Haynes pointed out that he’s no stranger to the world of spandex and superpowers. “I have more experience with Super Heroes and the supernatural than some, but this is the first time I’m playing an actual god. Thor literally brings the thunder, and has helped build people’s passion for Super Heroes for over 60 years. I was excited that this is a really fresh take on the character, being a young adult going to college. It was great working with Marvel and TinyCo on bringing him to life in MARVEL Avengers Academy.”

    TinyCo even picked up WWE superstar (and fodder of memes everywhere) John Cena to lend his voice to Marvel’s gamma-irradiated powerhouse, the Hulk. Talking about his role as the Jade Giant, Cena said, “I had a ton of fun playing one of my favorite Super Heroes ever, the Hulk! In MARVEL Avengers Academy, this is a Hulk that has to exist in an environment with ‘rules’, not just ‘smash’. It really allowed me to show some lesser-seen sides of the big green guy that people might not experience in the movies. It’s was great getting a chance to work with crew at Marvel and TinyCo on this awesome project.”

    MARVEL Avengers Academy was officially released last week for both iOS and Android devices. The game is free to download, but like most free-to-play games, features in-app purchases ranging in price from $1.99 to $99.99 (Wow! Does anyone EVER actually pay that much at once for a mobile game?). On the upside, that cost is for packages of either gold coins or crystals, which can also be earned through various in-game activities.

    Game Title:             Marvel Avengers Academy
    Publisher:                TinyCo
    Publisher URL:      http://www.tinyco.com

    Platform:  
    iOS – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/marvel-avengers-academy/id1061768547
    Android – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tinyco.avengers

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    Cute Valentine’s Deal from Artifex Mundi

     

    mainsite_imageIt’s nearly Valentine’s Day, love is in the air and nothing makes my heart flutter quite like a great deal on games.  If you don’t already have a relationship with Artifex Mundi, now is a great time to start up a fling with this casual gamer creator and publisher.  Their “Cute Valentine’s Deal” has three of their games priced up to 85 percent off now through February 19th.

    Artifex Mundi is best known for their stunning hidden object games with compelling stories. As an added bonus their games are available on multiple platforms, which is something I appreciate.

    For Valentine’s Day, they are running sale promotions in the Mac App Store, Google Play, BlackBerry World, the Windows Store, and the Windows Phone store. There are 2 games in each store, discounted at different levels at least through the weekend. Here’s the breakdown:

    Mac App Store:
    Clockwork Tales:Of Glass and Ink, $2.99 (normally $6.99)
    Time Mysteries 3:The Final Enigma, $1.99 (normally $6.99)

    Google Play:
    Grim Legends:The Forsaken Bride, $1.99 (normally $4.99)
    Time Mysteries 3:The Final Enigma, $0.99 (normally $4.99)

    BlackBerry World:
    Grim Legends:The Forsaken Bride, $1.99 (normally $4.99)
    Time Mysteries 3:The Final Enigma, $0.99 (normally $4.99)

    The Windows Store:
    Clockwork Tales:Of Glass and Ink, $2.99 (normally $6.99)
    Time Mysteries 3:The Final Enigma, $0.99 (normally $6.99)

    The Windows Phone Store:
    Clockwork Tales:Of Glass and Ink, $0.99 (normally $2.99)
    Time Mysteries 3:The Final Enigma, $0.99 (normally $2.99)

    Visit the Artifex Mundi site for more information and links to purchase any of these games. I really enjoy their games and I hope that you will too.

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    Puzzle game Best Fiends now available for iOS mobile devices

    Best_Fiends_Screenshots_5_1536x2048-768x1024Seriously, a Helsinki, Finland-based mobile entertainment startup, has released its first IP, an iOS game called Best Fiends.

    The title is set in Minutia, a world populated with cute yet fiendish creatures that players must collect. These adorable, courageous little guys lived in harmony until a meteor struck, transforming the Slugs of Mount Boom into an army of pests that are now sliming and chomping their way through Minutia. Now, our tiny heroes have to save their families from the slugs by gaining special powers as players level up. To do so, players engage in the type of puzzle-based gameplay that has them matching shapes to make them disappear.

    The new IP has a pedigree worth noting; the company behind it was created by former Rovio (Angry Birds) executives Andrew Stalbow and Petri Järvilehto, with music from “Despicable Me”‘s Heitor Pereira performed by the Budapest Art Orchestra. Best Fiends was designed from the ground up as the first of what Seriously hopes is a global entertainment franchise.

    Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Järvilehto said in a press release, “The story of Minutia and the cute yet fiendish creatures that inhabit it is something we’ve been passionate about developing for a long time. For us, this launch is the beginning of an incredible journey that will unfold through a trilogy of games.”

    Best Fiends has already had a soft launch with what the company says were promising results, and the next installment in the trilogy is already in the works. The second game is due out in 2015.

    The game is free to play with in-app purchase options, and is currently only available at The App Store worldwide for iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad. Check out the Best Fiends YouTube channel, complete with trailers, reveal videos, making-of pieces, and more. Get it at www.AppStore.com/BestFiends, or find out more information at www.bestfiends.com. The game is expected to be available for Android devices via Google Play and the Amazon App Store before the end of the year.

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    Facebook Messenger Is Not The Devil You Think It is

    facebook_logo

    Ever since I got on this website called Facebook and started sharing in my very own online community, I’ve been very cognizant of what Facebook offers me – for free. I’ve reconnected with high school acquaintances, discovered that my fellow college alumnae have created an amazing network of groups for every topic from race relations to fashion, and met some super-cool people I now consider my friends even though I’ve never met them in person. Like Marcia and Desirai, for example.

    And every time Facebook makes a change, I can hear the multitudes universally condemning Facebook – for no longer showing posts chronologically or changing its privacy rules or what have you. I always roll my eyes because, you know, Facebook is free, and no one is stopping anyone from leaving (unlike Comcast). Honestly, our society requires constant change to keep itself fresh and innovative. Change can be good.

    I guess I’m pretty laid back in general. Stuff like this doesn’t bother me.

    But naturally, I’m concerned about my privacy. When I first got the message on my lovely little Samsung Galaxy S4 that I was going to have to get the Messenger app in order to send messages on Facebook, I was indeed  irritated. I thought it was a bit high-handed of Facebook to make me download a whole new app to just send messages (I had just gotten my Samsung a few months ago after trading up from a phone that would barely show me any of my messages at all, so even getting my FB mail was an upgrade).

    I held out for a while, then got curious and downloaded it. (PRO TIP: Use Facebook through your phone’s web browser if you really, really don’t want to install Messenger. You can access your messages that way.)  Then I uninstalled it, because I was having issues with battery life that started around the same time and wondered if Messenger was the culprit. It wasn’t.

    So I reinstalled it, and guess what. I LIKE IT. I like the little Chat Heads that pop up and show me Desirai just sent me a message. I like its functionality and dependability. I find Messenger pretty seamless overall, and I use my phone for Facebook now more than even my regular computer.

    There have been a lot of complaints about the permissions that Messenger requires. I get it. It sounds like Big Brother. You look at the list, and alarms go off in your head. For like a minute.

    According to the applications manager in my phone, Messenger is allowed to: directly call phone numbers, read phone status and identity, edit my text messages, read my text messages, receive text messages, send SMS messages, take pictures and videos, record audio, find my approximate location through a network, find my precise location through GPS, read my call log, read my contacts, read my contact card, modify or delete the contents of my USB storage, find accounts on the device, read Google service configuration, change network connectivity, download files without notification, get full network access, view Wi-FI connections, run at startup, draw over other apps, control vibration, prevent phone from sleeping, change my audio settings, read sync settings, and install shortcuts.

    Whew. Freak-out time, right? I mean, WTF. All these permissions seem intrusive and risky. Until you think about it. The Facebook help page about Messenger says this: “we use these permissions to run features in the app. Keep in mind that Android controls the way the permissions are named, and the way they’re named doesn’t necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them.”

    That’s important, right there. Every permission that Facebook asks for helps Messenger, you know, operate. It’s what makes Messenger a good app. It gets permission to take photos because how else are you going to send them to your friends? Would you rather a statement pop up whenever you want to send your admiring fans a selfie, asking you for permission to upload and send it out? If you got that EVERY SINGLE TIME you posted a picture using your phone, wouldn’t you at some point choose to bypass the permission question anyway?

    If Messenger doesn’t record audio, then you can’t send voice messages and make voice calls. If Messenger can’t directly call numbers, you can’t call people. If it can’t receive text messages, you can’t add phone numbers to your account. If it can’t read contacts, it can’t figure out if a contact is already in your system and sync them. Here’s a nice article from Fidonerdi that breaks some of this down further: The Truth About The New Facebook Messenger.

    I think what’s gotten lost in all this hoopla about being required to install Messenger and accept its permissions is that it’s a good app, and it works well. So, breathe. It’s all okay. Facebook is not the devil.

    Yet.

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    Tales from the Dragon Mountain 2: The Lair Review

    lair

    I’m starting to really enjoy the point-and-click adventures from G5 Games, now that I’ve reviewed a number of them. The latest, Tales from the Dragon Mountain 2: The Lair, isn’t perfect, but it still may edge out most of the others to land in one of my top spots and it’s well worth the under-$5 price tag in Mac’s Apple Store.

    Players take on the role of Mina Lockhart, who apparently got rid of some bad guy named Strix in the previous game (I haven’t played Tales from the Dragon Mountain: The Strix, so I can’t really speak to the quality of that game). Apparently, Strix is back, and Mina and her sidekick Malik have to defeat him again in order to protect the mythical creatures of Dragon Mountain. her quest involves finding items, solving puzzles and opening a portal, all to locate Strix’s lair.

    Unlike some of G5’s other games, this “hidden object” title doesn’t actually include the type of mini-game in which you get a list of items and have to locate them all within a mostly static picture. Most of the puzzles here are actually logic games of one sort or another – slide balls along tracks to get objects where they’re supposed to go, solve tangrams, find all the things you need to make a loaf of bread, or plant and pick flowers. These little diversions are fun and usually make sense within the confines of the story, although they’re not especially creative compared to some of the puzzles in other G5 games. There were one or two that I had no earthly idea how to solve based on the instructions given to me, so I just skipped them.

    This particular title happens to be short on story, but that’s okay. One of my other G5 favorites, Nightmares from the Deep 2: The Siren’s Call, is much more intricate but also more pretentious and embellished, and I didn’t really mind the lack of  characterization, curses, and complications in this one. This game is simpler – the tasks are not complicated, the missions are relatively easy and more logical,  and the puzzles are challenging but mostly straightforward. I just felt like I didn’t have to think so hard to figure where to go to get things or how to put items together.

    According to a press release, this game features 63 scenes, 27 mini-games, five chapters and three difficulty modes. You can unlock achievements by collecting stone dragons and solving puzzles (you can skip the puzzles, but you won’t get the achievements). A “combiner” tool automatically shows you the silhouettes of the objects you need to solve a particular problem, and the ever-handy “hint” button is always available when charged. Attractive settings inside a town and a mountain include a flooded cavern, a pumpkin coach, a cemetery, a windmill and a garden. The voice acting is so-so but likable, although the words sometimes don’t match up perfectly with the written dialogue.

    Tales from the Dragon Mountain 2: The Lair from G5 Entertainment and Cateia Games is currently available for the Mac iOS, iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire and Google Play (Android) for $4.99. The version I played was designed for Macs.

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    Idol Words

    IdolWords

     

    I have a really unhealthy addiction to word puzzle games. So today’s announcement that Idol Words, a fun, fast and addictive jungle-themed word puzzle game arrived on Amazon is going to severely impact my ability to get everything on my to-do list done. Created by  Outplay Entertainment, a social and mobile game company housed in the UK, Idol Worlds will allow players to face-off against friends in a fast-paced word search adventure.

    Idol Words for Amazon is the complete package; achievements, stats, daily challenges and fun with friends! We’re delighted to be bringing the world’s wildest word hunt to the platform! notes Producer, Stephen King.

    Idol-WordsUse powerful boosts and the temple’s ancient stone letters to spell words – the longer the better! Use all the letters on the game board and watch as it flips to reveal a whole new challenge! The more words, the more flips… the more flips, the more points! How many words can you discover? How high can you score? Your adventure awaits!

     

    • CHALLENGE YOUR FRIENDS! – Search, spell and scramble your way to the highest score after 3 rounds to win!
    • BOARD-BUSTING BOOSTS! – Freeze Time, Flip the Board, or send your score soaring with a 4x Multiplier!
    • RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE! – Chat, brag and challenge, and take the top spot in our global leaderboards!
    • BRILLIANT BRAIN TEASERS! – Try a unique new puzzle every day and enjoy 4 modes of play!
    • BECOME THE ULTIMATE WORD HUNTER! – Compare endless stats and unlock over 50 Trophies!

    Idol Words is available on Andriod for $2.99 on Amazon. You can also find Idol Words on Facebook  or  @IdolWordGame on Twitter.

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